Sweet sounds surround brewery studio

Thanks to a $25,000 McKnight fellowship award, East Side composer Ann Millikan has been given the chance to create what she calls an "electro-acoustic installation" in one of the rentable art studios now housed in the old Hamm's brewery.

And that's music for the ears of Swede Hollow lovers. In collaboration with the Friends of Swede Hollow group, in fact, Millikan hosted her first show of a six-month long concert series on Feb. 8.

The folks who heard about this first of four shows were treated to an interactive sound installation that Millikan has been working to create since October. Attendees heard individual performances by bass clarinetist Pat O Keefe, co-artistic director of local group Zeitgeist, and tenor saxophonist Micheal Lewis, with local jazz trio Happy Apple and player for the nationally acclaimed Andrew Bird. They also heard a talk by onetime Swede Hollow resident Joe Sanchelli, regaling them with tales of what life was like in St. Paul's onetime immigrant village before it was eventually burned to the ground by city officials as a safety hazard.

Millikan calls her show the House of Mirrors, an attempt to explain how the musicians weren't just playing improv pieces, but what she calls "structured" improv, given some guidance by her before the show and then told to move among the sound installations she'd created for reverb and amplification.

"So there's this interplay between what they're playing, and what they're hearing coming back at them through the resonating objects," says Millikan, who has apparently been dreaming of just such an event since 2001, well before she'd uprooted from the Bay Area four years ago and landed in the Twin Cities - choosing a home near Lake Phalen as she says it's one of the few neighborhoods around town not subject to airplane flyovers, a bane of any composer with a home studio.

Once the Friends turned her onto the arts studios within what used to be the northern half of the brewery, now privately owned, Millikan knew her installation dream finally had the potential of coming true.

"A place just resonates with its history. That's why I wanted to be near Swede Hollow" and in the brewery, she says: "working in a site-specific environment is very rich."

And, for saxophonist Lewis, something quite novel.

"I've played saxophone into effects pedals and external speakers, but not quite as focused as she had it - not as far down the pike, so to speak," Lewis says, adding that the sound setup was "very creative ... by playing into specific microphones you were kind of activating these resonance chambers."

If the concept proves as compelling during future performances as it was that first night, Millikan says she hopes to document the whole thing on video, with a long-term goal of pursuing similar projects at music festivals and historic sites all over the world.

"In a way, it's like a pilot project to see how I can continue with this as my life's work," she says. "It's been a very exciting process."

Scott Nichols can be reached at eastside@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7816.

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